By Kathy Eich
Red Root Mountain School of Botanical Medicine
www.redrootmountain.com ☼ firstname.lastname@example.org
From the upcoming book, Make Your Way to Being An Herbalist, by Kathy Eich
An Herbalist’s Menstruums
Medicine making is not difficult. If you can follow directions, and measure, you can do it! There are some things to have an understanding of first.
What is a menstruum, and which are used in plant medicine?
A menstruum is the fluid solvent used to extract the chemical constituents from plants we use as therapy. The most common menstruums are: Alcohol (high quality 95% alcohol content); Vegetable glycerin; Water; Vinegar; Honey; and Oil.
What plants extract in what menstruums?
Most people believe that if you can make a water infusion/tea with a plant, you can make an alcohol tincture, or vice versa. That can be true, but is not always the case. Some chemical constituents are soluble in alcohol and oil, while others are water and honey soluble. It’s important to know what you need to make the most effective medicines.
- Some water soluble plants: mucilaginous plants like marshmallow root, or when using plants as nutritional teas (nettle leaf, raspberry, parsley, oat straw, hibiscus, rose hips, hawthorn berries, dandelion leaf)
- Some alcohol soluble plants: those high in resins and alkaloids that are anti-bacterial– elecampane, echinacea, calendula, blue vervain, cleavers, licorice root, uva ursi, usnea, nettle leaf (as an anti-histamine)
What part of the plant should be used, and should it be used fresh or dried?
It’s important to know which part of the plant holds the medicine. And if multiple parts are medicinal, how to process each and what it’s used for. Some plants must be done fresh, some can be used both fresh or dried, while others need to be dried, or cured for months.
What is the best menstruum to plant dilution for a potent medicine?
Well labeled tincture bottles will be marked for dilution. You will see this: 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, or 1:5, to name a few. The first number denotes the amount of plant used by weight. The second number is the amount of fluid by volume. If it is a 1:2, there was 1 part plant used per 2 parts menstruum.
What is the shelf life of the product?
This varies- tinctures measured and made properly with alcohol will keep indefinitely, oil goes rancid in 6-8 weeks unless you add 20% jojoba oil to it. Glycerin extracts will keep for about 3 years. When you macerate plants in honey, if little to no water was used, it will stay good for a while.
Making A Dried Plant Tincture
Supplies for Making Fresh and Dried Plant Tinctures
- Fresh and/or dried plant matter
- Distilled water (only if dried)
- High alcohol product (96%; mainly if making a fresh plant tincture)
- Something to press plant matter down and stir with
- Canning funnel (optional)
- Measuring cup
- Mason jar of appropriate size
- Scale(while the awesome $150 scales are optimal, I have found digital kitchen scales at Target to work just fine. They run about $35, and are far more realistic for most people’s budgets.)
- Location to store tinctures as they macerate that is dry, cool, and dark.
Making a Dried Plant Tincture
- Weigh your plant, and figure your plant to fluid ratio. This is plant specific in many cases. For example: Perhaps you have 2 oz. of dried calendula flowers. For calendula, 1:5 is recommended. That is 1 part of plant by weight to 5 parts fluid by volume. 2 oz. of dried calendula x 5 parts fluid = 10 oz.! So we need 10 oz. of fluid.
2. Add the plant to the jar, and then pour the alcohol over it. Use what you need to mix them in. I put the lid on and shake the jar, or I use chop sticks to make sure the air bubbles are out, and I press the plant down beneath the liquid with a potato masher. This feat is usually easier with dried plant tinctures for there is a higher fluid content added, unless you’re working with yarrow or calendula.
3. Label. The label should say the following.
- The plant to alcohol ratio (example, 1:5)
- Part of plant used
- The Latin and common plant name
- When and where it was harvested or purchased.
- The date you made the tincture
4. Shake your tincture every day, or week. Sometimes it’s whenever you remember.
Healing Hands Cream
- 2 oz solid fat – shea butter
- 3 oz infused oil (calendula or comfrey), or almond oil
- 2 oz. jojoba- as a natural preservative
- 1 ½ – 3 oz distilled water –may also use rose water, or an herbal tea
- 1/8 teaspoon of borax (optional, see notes)
- ½ teaspoon of plain goat yogurt (optional, see notes)
- 1 oz. beeswax
- 10 drops essential oil if desired
- Tip: Jojoba oil acts as a natural preservative and is actually a wax distilled from a bean. It has an oily consistency. Add 20% jojoba oil to a recipe for this effect. This method will not work as well if your product has a higher content of water, making it a lotion as opposed to a cream. That is okay, but keep an eye out for mold.
- Boric acid can be found as Borax in the laundry section at the co-op. It is a salt compound found in dry salt lake beds, in food and soil. It contains boron, oxygen and hydrogen. It is anti-septic and makes for a whiter cream.
- Plain goat yogurt added to the cream facilitates the emulsification of fat and water. Because oil and water want to separate, adding an emulsifier makes them mix to create a single consistency. Other natural emulsifiers that you may find in your fridge are egg and mayonnaise. Goat yogurt, though, is my favorite. If you need to avoid dairy, one could also use soya lecithin. I don’t use soya lecithin because many people are allergic to soy.
- kitchen scale
- a double boiler
- stainless steel tablespoon
- large stainless steel bowl (if not using a blender)
- small glass containers to pour/spoon the cream into once complete
- a hand mixer or blender
- My own personal tip: I use a stainless steel or glass measuring cup in a saucepan with water for a double boiler when preparing small batches. To mix I use a single mixer bland inserted into the cup instead of a blender. I find it easier to clean.
- Jars and containers for creams come in glass or plastic, and an array of sizes. I make them in 2 or 4 ounce sizes, but smaller ones are nice as well for they are portable.
Instruction for making
- Weigh you shea butter and beeswax on the scale, and add it to the oil mix you have measured in your double boiler.
- Melt the shea butter, beeswax into the oil on low heat. Use a stainless steel spoon to stir until blended. Remove from heat.
- Warm the water or herb tea without boiling with the boric acid or soya lecithin. If using boric acid be sure it totally dissolves.
Important tip: Warming the water helps it emulsify better with the hot fat and wax mixture you have.
4. Put water into a mixing bowl or blender and agitate with an electric mixer or turn blender on. If you didn’t use soya lecithin now is the time to add the goat yogurt. As the water spins, slowly pour the oil mixture in. Mix until emulsified.
5. Add in the essential oils at the end. Mix slightly and then put cream into containers. Allow it to cool before attaching the lid.
Storage Tips, Shelf Life and Labeling
Storage Tips: Store out of sunlight and away from heat in glass or plastic jars. Also, avoid damp environments. I use glass for home, and plastic for travel.
Shelf Life: If you used 20% jojoba oil, as suggested with a low water content (as given in these instructions), your cream will store up to a year without a problem as long as you keep it away from sunlight and heat. Otherwise, you get about 2 months.
Signs that there is something amiss with your product: Does it smell bad or has the color changed? Is there mold growing on it? Does it feel and look fine?
Label and date each jar and make note of any changes you made to the recipe and the plants you used.
Sample Formulas for Creams
Remember, if you are making a tea or marshmallow root infusion, make it strong enough to have effect. For herb tea, use 1 tablespoon steeped in 3 oz. hot water for 10 minutes. To make the marshmallow root decoction takes a bit longer. Place 1 tablespoon of the root in 3 oz of water and let it sit overnight. Be sure when you press out your tea/decoction you still have 3 oz., and add a little more water if needed.
Tight dry skin: Tea: marshmallow root or plantain leaf; Infused oil: Calendula or comfrey; Essential oils: vetiver, frankincense
Burning and itching skin: Tea: marshmallow root or plantain leaf; Infused oil: calendula flower and plantain leaf, St. Johns Wort; Essential oils: lavender, vetiver
Infused Oil Materia medica
Calendula (Calendula officinalis): This infused oil is typically made with fresh flowers, but I have found dried to be just as effective if they are not older than one year. The oil is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anodyne, a mild styptic, anti-oxidant (aiding cell repair), anti-bacterial, and an excellent lymphatic. It is also very high in Vitamin A. Calendula oil and tincture are both safe to use topically on deep wounds.
Specific uses: bug bites, diaper rash, bacterial vaginosis, cervical dysplasia, cuts, scraps and irritations. It works beautifully with St. Johns wort infused oil for punctures and deep gashes to lessen pain, and keep tissue health so that infection does not set in.
St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): anodyne (fast acting pain reliever), nerve regenerator, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-spasmodic, This plant is potent in very specific ways. It lends its medicine in consort with others harmoniously, and also plays well solo. The thing to remember about St. John’s wort infused oil is it stops pain within seconds to minutes of applying. That is no joke. Punctures, severe cuts, and deep gashes are all made to feel better by direct application of the oil or tinctures of St. John’s wort. It also assists nerve regeneration when they are severed.
Specific uses: sprains, bruises, and external swellings of all kinds, deep cuts, punctures, abscesses (with other more specific plants), spasms, sciatica (external and internal). For use on swellings, sprains and bruises, combine with comfrey and arnica infused oil, tincture of blue vervain (assists the blood being reabsorbed into the blood stream, thereby decreasing swelling), and eucalyptus and lavender pure essential oils. For nerve regeneration on deep wounds, combine with calendula infused oil, and tincture of echinacea.
Arnica (Arnica montana) Arnica is warming, a potent anti-inflammatory, and increases small capillary circulation where applied. The capillary stimulation shuffles out toxins that build up in an injured and inflamed area, while also stimulating the body’s innate ability to heal the wound. Arnica is specific for external injuries with bruising and swelling, and should not be applied to broken skin. Where there is broken skin, I apply arnica around the area. It still works to lessen inflammation.
Specific uses: arthritis, muscle strains, sprains, accident and sports/dance injuries, broken bones to decrease local swelling when the incident occurs, and where there is muscle soreness later. Combines very well to work synergistically with St. Johns wort infused oil.